As a transgender woman, I know I’ll never need an abortion. I’ll never know the invasive feeling of a state law forcing me to carry a child to term. I’ll never need to walk past a protest line of people calling me a murderer for wanting control over my body, nor will I ever cross state lines in order to seek independence and agency over my future.
But all transgender people are quite familiar with lawmakers feeling they know more about our bodies than we do. We’ve endured stigma and hostility towards our health care by the Trump administration and state legislatures across the country, determined to maintain a society where, as feminist writer Kate Millet once put it nearly 50 years ago, “sex role is sex rank.” We fear attacks on reproductive rights because we, too, understand the threat of having our bodily autonomy denied by the ill-informed with ill intent.
The fights for reproductive justice and transgender equality are inextricably linked. Each of our movements must combat coordinated and overlapping attacks on the rights of anyone who needs reproductive health care, transgender people included. We share the same values of autonomy and of ensuring every person can access health care. But as this administration is determined to show, we also share the same enemies.
Just this summer, the Trump administration launched attacks on abortion access, access to other types of reproductive health care, and the right of every transgender person to live free from prejudice. A new gag rule from the administration will force reproductive health centers around the country to decide between a key source of funding or providing their patients with the full range of health care services, including abortions.
This threatens access to birth control, cancer screenings, wellness exams, STI treatments, and abortions for more than four million Americans, and could jeopardize the future of nearly 4,000 reproductive health centers nationwide. Such clinics are not only a major provider of transition-related health care such as hormone therapy — they’re often the only place a trans person can go to for health care free of prejudice, ignorance, or abuse.
According to our U.S. Transgender Survey, one in three transgender people—including nearly half of all transgender men—have experienced mistreatment at the hands of a medical provider, including harassment and being denied treatment. Such traumas act as barriers for transgender people accessing reproductive health care, who report facing ignorance and confusion from providers unfamiliar with transgender people. Transgender people in need of pap smears, HPV tests, abortions, and other forms of reproductive health care are often objectified, insulted, and turned away by staff who lack the training to know better.
The high stakes of this ignorance were emphasized in a case study published earlier this year in the New England Journal of Medicine. According to the study’s authors, a pregnant transgender man arrived at a hospital in labor and promptly told the nurse he was pregnant. Instead of triaging him as they surely would a pregnant cisgender woman, hospital staff believed the man was confused and set him aside, resulting in his pregnancy ending in a stillbirth five hours later.
Such are the horrifying consequences of an intrusive government hoping to make everyone with a uterus a mother and everyone with gender dysphoria disappear. As the anti-choice, anti-trans Liberty Counsel recently bragged to the Associated Press, Trump has already ticked off 90 percent of the restrictions on health care and personal liberty handed to him at the beginning of his administration.
Yet despite the high stakes, many of the limitations on reproductive and transition-related healthcare have had to fight for attention from the long shadow of an erratic president.
Just this year, 11 state legislatures have passed abortion bans designed to overturn Roe v. Wade and the Trump administration’s attempt to convince the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Supreme Court to legalize employment discrimination against transgender people. Another regulation proposed in May seeks to encourage providers to turn away transgender patients. The National Center for Transgender Equality and many other civil rights organizations collected over 132,000 comments in opposition to this plan.
These attacks, while devastating, haven’t received nearly as much news coverage as Trump’s Twitter timeline. As David McIntosh, head of the arch-conservative Club for Growth, recently claimed, Trump’s distract-and-conquer approach “creates headlines… and underneath those headlines, everyone else in the administration can go about peacefully doing their job.”
That’s why it’s so important for those who support access to trans healthcare and those fighting for reproductive justice join together in their common goals. Whether it’s a rule denying funding to any health center that so much as mentions abortion or a proposed plan to let doctors and hospitals refuse to treat transgender people, tens of millions are people are under attack for seeking the same control over our health every person deserves. Enemies of bodily autonomy have prioritized limiting us in every way they can. If we’re a priority for our enemies, we must be a priority for our friends.
Gillian Branstetter is a writer, advocate, and spokesperson for the National Center for Transgender Equality. Ms. Branstetter is a former reporter who now works to promote accuracy and ethics in coverage of transgender people by local and national media. She lives in Washington, D.C.